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Dr Gareth Lloyd writes:

16040782

‘Monster at Finsbury Fields’, 18th-century satirical print mocking the emotional response to evangelical preaching, by Samuel Wade, engraved by Charles Grignion. Image no. jrl16040782.

In September 2016 the University of Manchester Library digitised and placed online a collection of 153 manuscript testimonies written by people from all backgrounds who had converted during the 18th-century Evangelical Revival (see the Rapture and Reason website). These narratives, sent to the Methodist leader and hymn-writer Charles Wesley, contain personal stories from a movement that gave birth to leading 21st-century Christian denominations, including Methodism, the Holiness family of Churches and the evangelical wing of the Anglican Communion.

This first phase of the Rapture and Reason project (so-called because of the charismatic nature of evangelical spirituality) promoted and broadened scholarly access to an important cross-disciplinary resource. It also highlighted potential use of the testimonies by contemporary faith groups seeking to explore the roots of evangelical Christianity.

As a next stage of project development, The Methodist Church in Britain recruited volunteers from local congregations to transcribe the testimonies. These transcripts, totalling 165,000 words are now available online alongside the digitised images of the original documents, via the Rapture and Reason site.

This collection is a wonderful resource that crosses lines of gender, education and class. Spirituality and everyday life merge to provide unique insights into the most important mass movement of the 18th century. Subjects covered include marital abuse, capital punishment, psychology of religious belief, the Georgian workplace and abortion. These documents, never intended for publication, provide an intimate glimpse into a society undergoing rapid transformation.

EMV501-1

Extract from the testimony of Margaret Austen, 19 May 1740. Ref: EMV 501-1.

The collection is freely available for anyone to use, subject to the terms of a creative commons licence held by The University of Manchester. There are also opportunities for members of the public to volunteer to contribute to further project development, which will probably include annotation of the transcripts with biblical references and other background commentary.

For more information about the collection or volunteering opportunities, please contact Dr Gareth Lloyd, Curator of Methodist Archives and Manuscripts (Gareth.lloyd[@]manchester.ac.uk).